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Hamilton, Ontario: Coalition pushes for a living wage, not a minimum wage
The Spec
Stacey Escott

December 10, 2011
View the Original Article

Single mom Corinna Stroop puts off paying utility bills and other necessary expenses so she can provide healthy food for her son. She prioritizes her bills by which company is next in line to cut off her services. It’s a never-ending cycle.

But Stroop, 36, who has been working full-time for most of her life, says it’s not supposed to be this way.

She can’t save for retirement or for her son’s education. She has no benefits, assets or investments. When she makes a credit card payment, she has to turn around and use the same card to pay more bills.

“Minimum wage is not a living wage. Working full-time should lift you out of poverty, not keep you there,” she said.

On Friday, Stroop told her story at a presentation for Living Wage Hamilton, an initiative aimed at engaging employees, workers and the public in a conversation about the community benefits of a living wage, as opposed to minimum wage.

Fourteen dollars and 95 cents.

That’s what Living Wage Hamilton, a coalition of community partners, has determined that to be the appropriate hourly wage for Hamiltonians to survive above the poverty line. The group calculated the wage based on generalized budgets from data sources involving actual living expenses in Hamilton.

It would allow earners to feed, clothe and provide shelter for their family, promote healthy development and participate in the community. It doesn’t include household debt, home ownership or savings for children’s education or retirement.

According to a new report prepared by Deirdre Pike and Sara Mayo, social planners for the Social Planning and Research Council, 30,000 Hamiltonians had a job, but lived below the poverty line in 2006.

Pike says workers will be lifted out of poverty if they are paid a living wage. Families will have a bit of extra money to put back into the local community and to put towards their own health needs. And it would allow people to further educate themselves.

“Lots of us go and do these things to try and better ourselves, but people living in poverty have none of that as an option,” said Pike.

The movement is gaining momentum. Two new cities in British Columbia have adopted living wage policies, as have 140 cities in the United States. And all employees at the 2012 Olympic Games in London will be paid a living wage.

Members of the coalition say this is something that will benefit workers, employers and the community.

They say there is no pressure on businesses to start paying employees more money, it’s more about opening up the lines of communication and finding what works best for the Hamilton community.

The coalition will be presenting its ideas on living wage policies at Monday’s General Issues committee meeting at City Hall.